U.S. Marine Corps Tattoo Policies & Requirements

  • Written By Dan Hunter on December 8, 2019
    Last Updated: March 17, 2022

If you have plans to join the US Marine Corps, you need to be familiar with their new tattoo policy. The policy applies to new applicants as well as officers and has been updated to be more flexible with inked recruits.

The US Marine Corps released a bulletin on June 2nd, 2016, stating new regulations for recruits and officers who have tattoos. The new policy covers everything you need to know about the allowed location, size and body part of the tattoo.

The USMC tattoo policy doesn’t restrict the size of tattoos that are covered by uniform. Visible tattoos are allowed on the condition that they aren’t larger than the marine’s hand. Tattoos on the neck, head, elbow, knees, lips, and wrist aren’t permitted.

US Marine Mentality

The Marines are considered the strictest and most demanding branch of the military. That is why the change in the tattoo policy was considered excellent news to a lot of tattooed candidates.

Today, the military opened its arms to many applicants with tattoos to join, to the extent that it has the highest percentage of tattooed staff among all other careers — 36% of military staff have tattoos.

There’s a certain air of physical prowess linked to the Marines, and for whatever reason, we view a male or female figure with a tattoo as possessing extra strength. There’s clearly no relation between a tattoo and strength, but that doesn’t stop us from perceiving a tattooed Marine from having a mentality that’s made for warfare.

New Policy Taking Place

The good news is you can have the number and size of tattoos you desire as long as your uniform covers them. Tattoos that aren’t covered by the uniform have specific rules.

The new policy doesn’t allow any tattoos on the following body parts:

  • Neck
  • Head
  • Wrist
  • Knees
  • Elbows
  • Inside mouth
  • Lips
  • Hands

Hands now have an exception that wasn’t included in the policy before: a wedding ring tattoo.


Upper arm tattoos are allowed on the condition that they’re 2 inches below the middle of your elbow and don’t exceed the size of your hand. 

Only one lower arm tattoo is allowed on the condition that its location is 1 inch below the middle of the elbow and 2 inches above the wrist. Lower arm tattoos shouldn’t be bigger than your hand. 

Elbow tattoos are prohibited.


The upper leg tattoo location needs to be a minimum of 2 inches above your knee and can’t exceed the size of your hand. 

Only one lower leg tattoo is allowed on the condition that its location is at least 2 inches below the middle of the knee. Lower leg tattoos shouldn’t be bigger than your hand. 

Knee tattoos are prohibited.

Chest and Back

Chest and back tattoos are allowed as long as they can be covered by the crew neck T-shirt. This means it needs to be below the collarbone and seventh cervical vertebrae area.

The Size of Tattoos

Marines aren’t allowed to have a visible tattoo that exceeds the size of one’s hand. For tattoos that wrap around a body part, the size of the visible part of it can be a maximum of 3 inches wide.

Previously, the USMC only allowed band tattoos to be 2 inches wide.

Tattoo Content

The allowed tattoo content must adhere to the US Marine Corps tattoo policy. It’s prohibited for the tattoo to be:

  • Drug-related
  • Gang-related
  • Obscene
  • Indecent
  • Extremist
  • Sexist
  • Racist

Marines consider extremist tattoos to be all tattoos that symbolize:

  • Extremist organizations, philosophies, and activities 
  • Ethnic, gender, or racial hatred or intolerance
  • Illegal discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity or religion

Ultraviolet Tattoos

All tattoos that can only be visible using ultraviolet light follow the same rules for normally visible tattoos.

Tattoo Groups

Tattoos that are several shapes next to each other that started to exceed the definition of one tattoo are prohibited. Accepted tattoos must be separated and distinguishable.

Laser Tattoo Removal

If you find yourself stuck due to the prohibited tattoo rules, and you want to join the Marines, the safest and most popular option is laser tattoo removal.

This treatment doesn’t burn or make the skin fade; the dermatologist numbs your skin and uses laser pulses to break down particles of ink below the skin. Your tattoo will be completely removed afterward, but a scar will remain.

Swelling, bleeding, and blistering is normal after treatment — your doctor will recommend antibacterial cream for this. After the healing process, things should start looking better.

Removing your tattoo depends on its color, size, and location and can take between four and 10 sessions. Make sure the sessions are separated to give your skin a break from treatment and to avoid skin damage.

A Welcome Policy Change

If you think your tattoo is going to stand in your way of applying to become a marine, fortunately, this is no longer the case. The policy is now updated and more flexible since it allows both hidden and visible tattoos.

Read the policy carefully to make sure your tattoo doesn’t disqualify you from applying. The new policy might be detailed and somewhat tricky; however, you can always contact marine recruiters if you have a question regarding your tattoo that the policy didn’t answer.

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